WP: Pentagon to Stress Foreign Languages

When I went to a job fair a few weeks ago, an encounter with the woman at the Defense Intelligence Agency counter stuck out in my mind. After giving her spiel about how their agents are given full weapons training and get shipped to a different foreign country every 2 years, she mentioned that they were especially looking for people who spoke foreign languages. When I said I spoke Japanese her eyes lit up and she asked me to stay after and talk with her in more detail. I had to decline though — I’m not ready for that kind of responsibility.

This article gives me an idea as to why they were so interested:

Pentagon to Stress Foreign Languages

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page A04

The Pentagon has ordered a broad effort to expand the foreign language skills of the U.S. military, calling for recruitment of more foreign language speakers, higher proficiency levels for linguists and increased language instruction for U.S. forces.

Among measures still under consideration, a senior defense official said, is adoption of a requirement that all or most U.S. military officers understand a foreign language.

This next passage indicates that they have a need for Japanese. While I guess we won’t be fighting the Japanese any time soon, a friend of mine was saying that they often take Japanese speakers and force them to learn how to read Chinese. Kanji gives them a big head start:

“We’re really aiming to move a big part of the force — that would otherwise only know a few words or nothing — up to some kind of middle category,” he said in an interview.

One option under review is whether to require every officer, in Chu’s words, to “have some degree of competence in one or more of what we call the ‘investment languages,’ ” meaning Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or Korean. “We’ve asked the military services for a concept on how we’d do this,” Chu said.

The “defense readiness index” might give us some indication of where we’ll be attacking next:

Titled “Defense Language Transformation Roadmap,” the report outlined a series of directives to the military services and regional commands, with deadlines for action stretching over the next several years.

By the end of the year, for instance, a Pentagon survey is to be conducted to determine how many military and civilian personnel in the Defense Department speak a foreign language. A Pentagon “Language Office” is being established, and a “language readiness index” will be devised to measure the military’s capabilities.

4 thoughts on “WP: Pentagon to Stress Foreign Languages”

  1. I would think that our intelligence officers need to know the language of the “enemy.” For Japan, there’s so much increasing integration that it doesn’t surprise me that they want and need Japanese speakers.

  2. Fred Kaplan’s column in Slate this week does a pretty good job of explaining how ridiculously bad the Pentagon has been at actually developing language talent. If what he says is even one-tenth true, then they need to recruit as many foreign language speakers as they can, because they’re never going to succeed in training any internally.

    In the three and a half years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States built a massive arsenal, equipped an equally massive fighting force, and declared victory in a worldwide war over imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

    In the three and a half years after the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, the U.S. government funded dozens—if not hundreds—of Russian-language and Russian-studies departments not just within the military but in high schools and colleges all across America.

    Now, three and a half years after Islamic fundamentalists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Department of Defense is three months away from publishing an official “instruction” providing “guidance for language program management.”

    It’s pathetic.

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